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DAVID BRUDNOY: Speech To The BSA Minuteman Council of Boston At The 26TH


When I was asked to be a part of tonight's dinner I thought back to my days as a scout . I'm glad no one from that era is here to tell you what an inept scout I was. Anyone who sees me try to use a computer wouldn't be surprised, but we do like to put out of mind anything untoward.

Actually, there was nothing untoward about my scouting days, just nothing notable. Each merit badge was a labor of devotion. Maybe devotion is too elegant a term.

Try dogged determination. I struggled for each of them. I hoped that maybe there really was room in heaven for boys who helped elderly ladies, so as a cub scout I asked my grandmothers if I could walk them back and forth across the street. This lasted about an hour and then... well, that was the high point of my life as a scout.

One thing about those days: we knew no politics, couldn't have imagined that anything would ever get between a boy and scouting other than his own ineptitude, like mine. We lived in a Norman Rockwell world. Carefree, contented.

I was asked to be here tonight in part as a signal of the Boston Minuteman Council's cold war with the national Boy Scouts of America headquartered in Irving, Texas. I say cold war because there is no shooting, no shouting, just a tough disagreement separating the national organization, which demands a cruel discrimination doing nothing but enshrining a bigotry, and the
Minuteman Council, which last year, in its policy of nondiscrimination, signed by Brock Bigsby, declared as unacceptable "bias, intolerance, and unlawful discrimination" in serving thousands of youths "without regard to color, race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or economic status."

In joining councils in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Minneapolis - my natal city -
the Council in Boston, my adopted city for 40 years, said forcefully that it will not judge the worthiness of a boy to share in the
remarkable experience of scouting on the basis of what his sexual orientation is or may be, nor the competence of an older boy or man to be a leader, on the same irrelevant criterion.

Today sexuality and a great deal more are parts of everything. My generation knew wars abroad, we didn't know one at home. Today's boys do. My generation didn't know of gay-bashing because nobody talked about such a thing, not because no such thing ever happened, but nobody spoke those words that so wound, or those words of advice, mentoring, guidance, and
encouragement, that give a kid who is different a sense that all is not lost. We lived in blissful innocence, but that was also blissful ignorance, and it's beyond my ability to piece out which was most significant, that we were troubled by practically nothing or that we were aware of practically nothing as well.

We haven't the luxury today of cramming that genie back into the bottle. The culture has opened up in ways unimaginable a few decades ago, forever changed and never to return to a time in which we had to ask, when we talked of the purposes of scouting, whether what was needed by white gentile boys was also what was needed by white non-gentile boys and non-white boys, and non-heterosexual boys too.

What doesn't register with the narrow-minded men who run the BSA from Texas is that their exclusion doesn't enshrine traditional values worth upholding but just enforces habitual practices well worth leaving behind. Anyone who says that to oppose the BSA's policy where supported by local councils will harm boys, fails to realize that far more harm is done a boy by telling him, in word or deed, that his gay friend is worth less than he, and denying a gay classmate the scouting experience is somehow a fine American thing, than by helping a local council come to its senses.

The Minuteman Council came to its senses last year and deserves high commendation for that. But it hasn't gone the necessary final step, as I learned yesterday. I got an e-mail from a stranger: "I read your Herald column yesterday about the Boston BSA issuing a categorical policy of nondiscrimination. I wrote the chief executive when the policy was announced around August 2001, to ask if their policy of nondiscrimination would allow atheists to join, and he said no. In other words, their announced policy is a lie. They say that they won't discriminate on the basis of religion, but they do. The Boston Council is still practicing discrimination on the basis of religion, in direct contradiction to their stated policy."

Is this true? I fear that it is. If it is not, then that's good news and I'll tell the man who wrote to me. But if the letter-writer is accurate, and avowed atheists or agnostics are forbidden membership in the Scouts, then the Minuteman Council should make clear, now, unequivocally, that not only will no one be kept from scouting because of the religion into which he is born or the religion he professes but, also, no one will be kept from scouting because he professes no religion. Just as a boy's sexual orientation is irrelevant to scouting, so, too, his private philosophical or religious orientation, or lack of it, is irrelevant to scouting.

I had forgotten about the continued discrimination on religious grounds until reminded by the man who wrote to me. I grow by learning from others, and the Minuteman Council also grows, as last year it grew tough enough to stand for a policy we are all proud of. Now is the time to add an absolute commitment to true religious diversity to this organization.

As a dear friend said to me today, a young man who just graduated from Emerson College, when he hears the words Boy Scouts of America he hears Boy and America, not some boys and some parts of America. He believes, as I believe, and as I hope you believe, that scouting is for all boys in America. Unless we want to fall into the Clintonian habit of parcing the meaning of simple words, like "is," we can agree that all means all.

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